Firebirds, Lions ready for a different City Showdown that should still feature two quality basketball games

photo by: Nick Krug

Lawrence High's Zeke Mayo tries to fight through a pick by Free State's Kris Daniels as Free State's Dash Cleveland comes away with the ball during the first half on Friday, Feb. 21, 2020 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Just like everything else that has happened in the last 11 months, the City Showdown will look a lot different than it has in years past.

For one, the two basketball games will be played in separate gymnasiums on Friday instead of the usual doubleheader. The girls contest between Lawrence High and Free State will take place at LHS, while the boys matchup will be held at FSHS.

Both games are slated to begin at 7 p.m.

“I feel bad for all the kids that the boys aren’t playing here too, and then they get to walk out for the JV game and it’s packed already,” Lawrence girls head coach Jeff Dickson said. “That’s something you don’t get everywhere.”

“While I don’t like the over emphasis on these games,” Dickson added. “As far as a high school getting to play in an electric college-like atmosphere, I’ve never seen anything like it at the high level in the state of Kansas.”

Aside from the two different locations, the environment will be different because of the spectator limitations.

Both schools recently updated their spectator guidelines to include four family members per participant at home games. Visiting teams will be allowed two family members per participant, which will apply to the FSHS girls and LHS boys on Friday.

It is an environment that all four squads have become accustomed to, of course, though it seems especially strange this time around considering how much of an event that the crosstown rivalry has become.

“I think the guys will still be amped up regardless if there’s anyone in the gym,” FSHS boys coach Sam Stroh said. “Whether there’s nobody in the gym or 2,000 people in the gym, I think our guys will be fired up and ready to go.”

To top if off, all four teams have had to deal with schedule changes in the week leading up the main event on Friday.

Because of the weather, nobody from either school was able to practice on Monday or Tuesday. Free State boys decided to have some film breakdowns over zoom during those two days, while Lawrence boys chose not to do that and just let their players be responsible for staying in shape on their own.

The weather forced all four teams to play on Wednesday instead of Tuesday. LHS boys also had a home meeting with Olathe North on Thursday, meaning the rivalry matchup will be the Lions’ third game in as many days.

“It should be fun,” LHS boys coach Mike Lewis said of the week. “Just just taking it one day at a time and just trying to play the best that we can each day. On a week like this week, (we will) hopefully maybe be at our best on Friday.”

Lawrence High’s Amaya Marshall looks to throw a pass from the floor during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 21, 2020 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Despite all of that, though, the City Showdown should feature two good basketball games between evenly-matched teams.

On the boys side, the Firebirds (17-2, No. 4 in Class 6A) have won nine games in a row entering their home matchup with the Lions. FSHS has been relying on a balanced offensive attack and strong team defense for much of this stretch.

Junior point guard Mozae Downing is the one that steers the ship for Free State, but senior Andrew Piper is also an important member on both ends of the floor. Junior Cooper Jackson has emerged as of late, demonstrating an ability to deliver in the clutch for a FSHS team that has had to erase multiple early deficits.

“They’ve got a nice roster of guys who can come in and contribute on any given night,” Lewis said. “I like the way they can get out and change their momentum. They are a team that can respond when they’re not playing well and put together two good quarters when they know they need to.”

Free State’s game plan will start with trying to contain LHS senior guard Zeke Mayo, who is averaging 22.1 points per game entering Thursday. Mayo, who signed with South Dakota State men’s basketball, has performed well in this rivalry dating all the way back to his freshman year.

Mayo has also tallied multiple assists in all but two games this year, finding a way to get teammates Pearse Long, Avion Nelson and Grant Cleavinger involved on a consistent basis. That’s a big reason why the Lions (15-1, No. 3 in Class 6A) have won seven straight entering Friday’s matchup.

“They’ve got the best player arguably in the league,” Stroh said of Mayo. “He’s very unselfish. He doesn’t force anything and he still scores 20-plus points a night. That’s a credit to him and trusting his teammates.”

Yet there is also a dynamic player in the girls game, with senior Shannon Clarke looking to earn one last rivalry win before going to play collegiate basketball at the Naval Academy.

Entering this week, Clarke was second in the Sunflower League in scoring with an average of 14.9 points per game. She is producing 5.2 rebounds per contest to put up impressive numbers despite being the focal point of any defensive game plan.

Free State (4-11, 2-9 Sunflower League) also has a few other key producers around Clarke. Senior guard Evy Harrell is averaging over two assists per outing. Seniors Robin Todd and Daeci Walker have a knack for knocking down shots on the offensive end as well.

“We know that they have a huge edge in experience,” Dickson said.

While Free State has won back-to-back rivalry matchups, head coach Chris Linner is taking Lawrence seriously in his first-ever City Showdown.

Linner believes the Lions (2-15, 1-10 Sunflower League) have a few promising young playmakers in the backcourt. LHS is led by sophomores Amaya Marshall, Serenity Keo and Lucy Hardy. Junior Layla Harjo is also a key player for Lawrence.

“I know they’re kind of a younger team with some pretty talented guards,” Linner said. “Dickson is a great coach, so I know they’ll be ready.”

With the postseason looming, a rivalry win would be a big boost for any of the four teams playing on Friday.

“That’d be huge,” Linner said. “In terms of confidence going into that first substate game, I think that would do us wonders if we’re able to win that game and use that as momentum.”

Tipoff for both basketball contests will be slated for 7 p.m.

A look at the last five years of the City Showdown

Boys results

Feb. 21, 2020: Lawrence 50, Free State 42

Feb. 11, 2019: Lawrence 71, Free State 55

Dec. 15, 2017: Free State 56, Lawrence 49

Feb. 24, 2017: Lawrence 77, Free State 57

Dec. 16, 2016: Lawrence 61, Free State 57

Feb. 26, 2016: Lawrence 75, Free State 60

Dec. 18, 2015: Lawrence 79, Free State 65

Girls results

Feb. 21, 2020: Free State 66, Lawrence 38

Feb. 11, 2019: Free State 42, Lawrence 34

Dec. 15, 2017: Lawrence 63, Free State 47

Feb. 24, 2017: Lawrence 54, Free State 43

Dec. 16, 2016: Lawrence 47, Free State 42

Feb. 26, 2016: Lawrence 52, Free State 43

Dec. 18, 2015: Lawrence 49, Free State 48


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